An Ecohydrological Approach to Riparian Restoration Planning in the American Southwest
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Riparian systems across the American southwest region are under threat from a growing and intertwined cast of natural and anthropogenic stressors, including flooding, drought, invasion by non-native plants, wildfire, urban encroachment, and land- and water-use practices. In relatively remote and unregulated systems like the upper Gila River in Arizona, riparian habitat value has persisted reasonably well despite much of it being densely infested with non-native tamarisk (salt cedar). A new concern in the watershed, however, is the eventual arrival of the tamarisk leaf beetle that is expected to soon colonize the tamarisk-infested riparian corridor as the beetle continues to spread across the southwest region. While there are numerous potential benefits to tamarisk suppression (e.g., groundwater conservation, riparian habitat recovery, fire-risk reduction), short-term negative consequences are also possible, such as altered channel hydraulics and canopy defoliation during bird nesting season (e.g., the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher). In preparation for anticipated impacts following beetle colonization, we developed a holistic restoration framework to promote recovery of native riparian habitat and subsequent local increases in avian population. Pivotal to this process was an ecohydrological assessment that identified sustainable restoration sites based on consideration of natural and anthropogenic factors that, together, influence restoration opportunities—flood-scour dynamics, vegetation community structure and resilience, surface- and groundwater availability, soil texture and salinity, wildfire potential, and land-use activities. Data collected included high-resolution remote-sensing products, GIS-based delineation of geomorphic activity, and vegetation field mapping. These data along with other information generated, including pre-biocontrol vegetation monitoring and flycatcher-habitat modeling, were synthesized to produce a comprehensive restoration plan that highlights those areas of the river best suited for active restoration and, ultimately, assist watershed managers in development and prioritization of ecologically appropriate restoration strategies.